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Argentine student designs vibrating shoes to guide the blind

By Mar Centenera

Buenos Aires, Nov 6 (EFE).- With “smart shoes” that vibrate when the wearer approaches an object, Argentine student Juan Manuel Bustamante hopes to provide an alternative for younger blind people who don’t like the traditional white cane.

Bustamante’s prototype, which he has entered in next week’s National Science Fair, detects any object within a radius of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches), the young inventor told Efe.

A student at Industrial College No. 4 in Rio Gallegos, capital of the remote southern province of Santa Cruz, Bustamante has spent six months working on the device, inspired by a conversation with a friend who started losing her vision as a teenager.

“She told me young blind people do not like the cane because they feel it stigmatizes them,” he recounted to Efe.

After hearing his friend’s opinion echoed by students and teacher at schools for the blind, Bustamante hit upon the idea of replacing the cane with shoes, “a discreet object used every day.”

“These shoes were conceived for blind people between the ages of 10 and 25, who are those who most strongly reject using the cane,” he said.

The device, dubbed Duspavoni, is attached to the sole and comprises three ultrasonic detectors placed in the front, back and side.

The sensors operate like sonar, bouncing sound waves off objects to calculate distance.

“The closer the object is, the more the device vibrates,” Bustamante said. “If the object is ahead, the tip of the shoe vibrates. If it is on the side, the sole vibrates, and if it is behind, the heel vibrates.”

The inventor had to tweak his initial design to lower the level of vibration, since it was “a bit annoying” for the blind people who tested it.

Bustamante’s device detects people, animals and possible obstacles such as trees, fences, cars and walls.

“The battery is recharged with an USB cable plugged to the computer or a mobile phone charger,” he said. “To fully charge the battery takes almost five hours and it lasts between three and five days.”

The sensors have a life span of almost 12 years and the battery may last six years, according to Bustamante.

While he has received several proposals from people anxious to manufacture and market the Duspavoni, Bustamante says he will wait to see what kind of reception the device gets at the science fair, set for Nov. 9-14 in Buenos Aires, before deciding his next move.

Similar devices have been patented in countries such as Britain and India, but none has yet succeeded in replacing the white cane.